The Best and Worst Documentaries of the Tribeca Film Festival

Capsule reviews of 24 non-fiction films from the fest, including "The Reagan Show," "Whitney: Can I Be Me," and "Gilbert."


From the slums of Syria to the desert of Afghanistan to the streets of American inner cities, three portraits of the brave souls who pick up a camera to tell a story and make a difference.

City of Ghosts

Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) tells the story of how a group of courageous citizens in the Syrian city of Raqqa – the “capital of ISIS” – use hidden cameras, savvily manipulated satellites, and the power of the Internet to share stills and video of the barbarism that had taken over their hometown. They’re quite literally risking their lives to get this information and these images, and get them out of the city, and Ghosts becomes a portrait of true, and terrifying, heroism – but with a devastating personal and emotional price. This is, in its purest form, what real journalism is about; I’ll never complain about the stupid bullshit at my job again.


War photographer Chris Hondros covered conflicts from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya, until 2011, when he was killed in the line of duty by a blast in Benghazi that also took the life of Tim Hetherington. This personal profile comes from director and friend Greg Campbell, and his style is meat-and-potatoes, mostly talking heads and images. But what images – the thrilling work Hondros created in those terrifying war-torn countries, images so stunning you’re afraid to blink, complimented by memories from friends, colleagues (telling their literal war stories), and even the subjects of his most iconic photos. Campbell raises some astute questions, particularly to the point of objectivity in photography, and puts across some sense of process, not even directly but via observation. Yet it’s mostly the story of his friend, a celebration of a unique artist who died doing the only thing he could imagine doing.


The numerous high-profile cases of police brutality and murder haven’t exactly gone unnoticed in the world of documentary film, but Camilla Hall’s documentary isn’t a retread – it’s about steps forward, specifically in the form of We Copwatch, an advocacy group that trains citizens in the particulars of observing and videotaping arrests and police encounters. They get a fair amount of pushback from the boys in blue (“You guys are safe now, you’re welcome,” sneers one, as they finish an observed arrest), which could’ve made for a compelling documentary by itself. But director Hall is more interested in the people who carry the cameras, particularly in the cases of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, and spends much of the film telling their stories. They’re stories of tragedy and pain, but this is film neither without humor nor hope; it’s uplifting and emotional, and there’s a glimmer of possibility in an interaction with an officer near its end that turns both thoughtful and productive. It’s the tiniest glimmer. But it’s something.